by Craig Dyer
Calamities like the recent Nepalese earthquakes often prompt questions from non-Christians about the inconsistency as they see it, of belief in a powerful, loving God, and the experience of appalling suffering in the world. Introducing unbelievers to Jesus’ dialogue with people stunned by sudden death in Luke 13 changes those conversations. It may not be appropriate to speak to those directly affected in this way. But for chats at the water-cooler with observers of life, the approach of Jesus is typically instructive.
Clear the Rubble
Pilate had ordered the brutal slaying of some Galileans in the temple. People told Jesus and, rather than defensively explaining why this happened, He immediately unearthed their wrong-thinking. As Jesus speaks, it’s not God who is on trial here.
2 … “Do you think that these Galileans
were worse sinners than all the other Galileans,
because they suffered in this way?
What makes the apparent randomness of death so unsettling is the apparent randomness of survival. That’s why people look for rationale to explain both. Here they speculated that Pilate’s victims had died paying for their own worse-than-average sin, which had finally been uncovered.
Jesus knew unerringly what people were thinking. Although we lack His knowledge and His tone, we can let people see how Jesus exposes false ideas of ‘karma’; that victims of terrorist attacks somehow attracted it, and the opposite, that those who survived, or were nowhere near, are therefore more worthy of life.
Lay the Foundations
No, says Jesus, there is no direct link between the nature of their death and the way they’d lived their lives.
3;5 I tell you; but unless you repent,
you will all likewise perish.”
The poor people murdered by Pilate or crushed under a collapsed tower that Jesus mentions in verse 4, died suddenly, unexpectedly, inescapably. Jesus’ message to the living is – you will all likewise perish.
Here and in Luke 12:4-5 Jesus makes it His priority to warn people about something infinitely worse than physical death: perishing forever cut off from God. That’s why it’s madness to speculate on the guilt or innocence of the dead. We have all sinned. We are all guilty. We will all face God. We will all perish unless action is taken. And His message to the living is for our eternal good.
We can’t argue with Jesus when 56 million people die in the world every year. His message is that people will die but need not perish. The One who spoke these words shed His blood as a sacrifice, and was crushed under the weight of God’s just wrath over our sin so that our perishing can be averted.
Seize the Moment
This kind of perspective-sharing might end in outright rejection, or polite appreciation. Either way, we must communicate urgency. Everyone will perish unless they repent. In 13:6-9, the parable of the barren fig tree serves to show the living that the time to repent has been extended for us, so there is hope. But that extension will expire.
Our task is urgently, prayerfully, lovingly to say to the distant onlookers as they talk to us about that earthquake, suicide bomber, train crash – please hear Jesus. Please heed Jesus. Repent. Turn back from the imminent danger of perishing so that whenever and however this life ends, you have the certain joy of eternal life.
Craig Dyer is training director at Christianity Explored Ministries and associate pastor at Harper Church, Glasgow, Scotland. Convinced of the power of God’s word to change lives, he summarizes his work as “equipping hundreds to train thousands to rescue millions.”